In the Garden May 2015

By Rhiannon Allen

The Point Roberts Character Plan Review Committee recently raised the issue of gardening advice for businesses in our commercial/resort zone. Landscaping and gardening are personal choices, but some people appreciate guidance in selecting plants. Therefore, I thought I’d use this column to offer suggestions to those wondering about what to plant. These suggestions work equally well for residential and commercial-front gardens.

One category of plants to consider is native plants. I recommend these because they fit seamlessly into the backdrop of Point Roberts. Also, once they are established, they require little care because they are so well adapted to our climate and native pests. A number of small native trees and shrubs will easily grace a storefront or home garden.

Good examples are vine maples, dogwoods, and red-flowering currants. Ninebarks work particularly well. Many developed cultivars of our native ninebark need a bit of shoulder room to accommodate their vigor, but are ideal as hedges or as a background to lower plants. Although ninebarks are deciduous, their winter bark can be attractive, and you also can choose a variety whose summer foliage suits your color preferences.

Ferns, kinnikinnick and Oregon wood sorrel are good choices to place in front of native shrubs and trees, with all providing year-round greenery. Just remember when planting a native garden that you should not raid parkland for starter plants.

Another category of plants that work well are the heritage plants that graced the gardens of early settlers and summer residents. In this vein, small fruit trees and hawthorns work well if sited where ravenous birds and insects won’t disturb people. Heritage lilacs, honeysuckle, old-fashioned roses and kerria are somewhat smaller choices that provide spring and summer bloom. Spring bulbs like daffodils and bluebells were popular among the settlers in the early 1900s, and old-fashioned low-growing garden plants like nasturtiums and pinks graced the early gardens of both full- and part-time residents. All these are fine choices for street-front gardens.

Of course, history marches on, and recent decades have seen the use of what will become tomorrow’s heritage plants. I am thinking particularly of the rhododendrons fronted by heathers/heaths that grace so many gardens here. These plants offer the bonus that they are evergreen and provide year-round interest. Just make sure that you select varieties of appropriate mature size and mulch well, and you will be rewarded by an attractive, low-maintenance, long-lived garden. A well-placed boulder or artfully installed driftwood log, and Voila! you have a heritage garden in the making.

The above recommendations can be used to create a historically and ecologically harmonious garden. However, dramatic impact can be achieved through other means, and that might be more to one’s taste. Point Roberts is in many ways a seaside community. So what better way to highlight that in your garden than by creating a beach- or seaside-themed garden? Ornamental grass, rocks, sand and driftwood come to mind. If you want some height, add a native shore pine.

As a great example of a beach-themed garden for a business, just take a look at the Blue Heron Gallery. Seaside-themed gardens have the special advantage of being drought-tolerant, which should be a concern of business and residential gardeners alike. However, I have to warn people thinking of a seaside garden that two ornamental grasses sometimes used in sea-themed gardens have been recently placed on the Whatcom County Noxious Weed List. The first is pampas grass (Cortaderai selloana and C. jubata), and the second is ravenna grass (Saccharum ravennaei). So please take the time to look for varieties of grass that will wave gracefully in the ocean breeze, but are not on the weed list. There are plenty to choose from, and most ornamental grasses need little care aside from a yearly cropping or raking.

On the topic of noxious weeds, please check out the current weed list at whatcomcounty.us/923/weeds before selecting plants. There, you will discover that a number of common garden plants like English ivy (Hedera helix) and yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon) are on the noxious weed list. Both plants form dense mats that outcompete plants that local fauna such as bees need. Ivy is particularly noxious in Point Roberts because its ground foliage harbors rats. Who wants rats in their garden? Gardeners can find many relatively well-behaved alternatives such as beach strawberry, bunchberry, kinnikinnick and Oregon wood sorrel that provide a nice, year-round ground cover while feeding native pollinators and not harboring rodents.

Of course, no one is required to front his or her property with a garden. But wouldn’t it be lovely to welcome visitors and attract customers with a splash of greenery or color?

Looking for plants here in Point Roberts? Check out Ladybug Nursery on Windsor Drive, or visit the Point Roberts Garden Club Garden Sale at the community center on May 16.

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